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Chapter Twenty-jour

TN the autumn of 1093 two women died. They were Su Tungpo's wife
Aand the Empress Dowager, both of whom we might almost believe
had mystically acted as the guardian angels of the poet. Their deaths
were coincident with a complete reversal of fortune in Su Tungpo's
life. Mrs. Su died on August i, the Empress Dowager on September 3.
At the time of his wife's death, Su was at the height of his fortune, and
she left him exactly at the right moment to be spared the saddest period
of his life. After recall from his office at Yangchow, Su had served first
for two months as minister of war and then ten months as minister of
education; his brother was then serving as chancellor of the imperial
secretariat. Su's wife had participated in the visit of the Empress to the
ancestral tombs and had enjoyed all the honours of a lady of her rank.
Her children were now all married and by her side. Mai was thirty-
four, Tai twenty-three, and Kuo twenty-one, "the second son had been
married to a granddaughter of Ouyang Shiu. Mrs. Su's funeral cere-
mony therefore took place with all the pomp and circumstance appro-
priate to her station. Her coffin lay in a Buddhist temple in the western
suburb of the capital until ten years later, when Tseyu buried her re-
mains in a common tomb with her husband. Su Tungpo's sacrificial
prayer to her was written with the usual felicitous expressions, but also
with classical restraint. It spoke of how good a wife she had been, aod
how good a mother; how, too, she had treated the son by the first wife
as her own. He said that she had shared the ups and downs of his
fortune with perfect content, and he pledged that he would be buried
in the same grave with her. On the hundredth day after his wife's
death, Su Tungpo had a portrait of the ten disciples of Buddha painted
by the famous painter Li Kunglin, and dedicated it in her honour at a
ceremony when Buddhist monks were asked to say mass for her soul
and bless her on her journey by land and water into the spiritual world.
In a true sense, the Empress Dowager, mother of Shentsung and,
grandmother of the present emperor, had been Su Tungpo's guardian
angel, too. Her death marked Su Tungpo's downfall, and the downfall
of all the officials in office during her regency. The wise old woman had
felt a political change coming, for her grandson had grown up by her
side and she knew him well. He was a boy artistically inclined, but
otherwise rash, given to explosions of temper, and easily twisted around
an experienced politician's finger. He had grown a sense of resentment
against his grandmother which was played upon and probably first
suggested by Wang Anshih's party men.